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After Anathem, Stephenson Returns to Our Corner of the Multiverse
on May 4, 2014
I am in awe of the tireless, hyper-creative entity that goes by the name 'Neal Stephenson'. The author photo accompanying his works is an obvious fake, and evidence is accumulating that 'he' is in fact a sentient NSA supercomputer designed to write its way past the meta-fictional barriers that divide the physical world and the fictional world. Until proof of this turns up on Wiki-Leaks or something similar, I'll have to seek out whatever clues can be gleaned from 'his' books. I can't think of another writer so freakishly prolific, for one thing. Since 2000 he's written the 2700 page 'Baroque Cycle' (a legitimate masterpiece that reinvents historical fiction); the 1000 page 'Anathem' (an ingenious work of speculative fiction that imagines another universe with many historical parallels to our own, in which huge monasteries, made up of monk-like orders that seal themselves in for decades, centuries, and even millenia, are desperate to avoid the toxic culture and technologies 'extra-muros'... These monks are not religious, however... They are scientists and philosophers, historians dedicated to protecting the ancient knowledge lost to the rest of their world. A visitor from beyond their universe threatens to undo not just their way of life, but their very existence... 'Anathem' is his greatest work to date, and is already a modern classic of both SF and Fantasy); Then we come to Reamde, all 1300 glorious pages of it. Involving a cast of characters too numerous to count, Reamde follows the misadventures of Zula Forthrast after her computer-geek boyfriend Peter sells a flash drive containing illegally obtained credit card information to a man representing an unpredictable Russian mobster named Ivanov. Unfortunately, the drive contains a virus acquired from the online environ of T-rain, a World of Warcraft-type MMORPG created and owned by Zula's very wealthy uncle, Richard Forthrast. When the panicked middleman shows up at Zula's apartment, they discover that the credit card info has been very deeply encrypted. A Troll, living in an isolated region of T-rain and protected by his own army of goblin bandits, is demanding a ransom in virtual gold... gold that has a real world currency exchange rate. From there begins an entirely wild, but somehow credible, course of events - flying to China with Ivanov on a private jet, so as to seek out the Chinese gold-farmer/viral extortionist whose T-rain avatar is the Troll; an insane gunfight between the Russian Mobsters and an Al Qaeda cell of bomb-makers, which initiates an epic battle of wills between the charismatic Islamic terrorist Abdallah Jones (responsible for multiple bombings around the globe) and Sokolov, a Russian Spetsnaz-turned-Security Expert (hired as muscle by Ivanov). From there, things get even messier, as Zula becomes the hostage of Abdallah Jones and his Al Qaeda crew, who proceed to steal the Russians' jet and cleverly chart an undetected course to British Columbia. From there, they plan on using Zula as leverage to convince her uncle Richard, who used to smuggle dope across the border by navigating a cross-country trek, to act as their guide. Various parties make their way to B.C., some of them Intelligence or Military hunting Jones before he launches his attack south of the border, while others are following the trail for their own reasons(such as Sokolov, who respects Zula and is determined to avenge his slain employees by killing Jones; Marlon, the Chinese youth whose alter-ego is the Troll, owes his life to Zula, who purposely sent the Russians to the wrong apartment, the one that just so happened to house the bomb-factory; Csongor, the massive but good-natured Hungarian hacker who Ivanov hired for computer support, has fallen in love with Zula, and will stop at nothing to rescue her; and Yuxia, a brave Chinese local acting as the Russian's guide, is drawn into the mess by chance, but she sticks with Marlon and Csongor in order to aid her new American friend. Stephenson abandons his usual slow. patient start for one of the most exciting books I've read. Given how freakishly prolific he is - writing some 5000 pages for the books mentioned above, as well as a book of essays and short stories, AND another three-volume series called 'The Mongoliad', which he co-wrote with a small group of writer friends - what is perhaps most impressive is his style. He is an excellent writer, avoiding cliches and employing a sharp, drily sardonic wit to each carefully conceived sentence and paragraph. Highly recommended.